Topsham hears first solar farm pitches – Press Herald

Sandy Schmidt, a long-time member of the Brunswick Area Modelers, prepares a remote-operated mini Contender plane for flight at the club’s current home at 449 Augusta Road in Topsham last month. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

TOPSHAM — Topsham is looking at two approximately 20-acre solar energy farm projects and new rules that would allow them in town.

The solar farm on Augusta Road (Route 201) was proposed by a subsidiary of SunRaise Development, according to planning board documents. It would oust the Brunswick Area Modelers club that has flown model planes on the property for nearly 40 years. Another farm is proposed for 357 Middlesex Road, currently home to a disc golf course.

Paul Johnson is vice president of the roughly 50-member airplane modelers club. In a recent interview, he said he didn’t know how the club would be affected. The club hasn’t been told it can’t fly there anymore and Johnson said he hopes it can coexist with a solar farm.

“We don’t know what to expect,” he said.

In recent years the Brunswick Area Modelers have tried to find other areas the fly their planes, including various town-owned plots in Brunswick. So far they haven’t been able to get permission to fly anywhere else in the Brunswick area.

Ted Crooker, who owns the property on Augusta Road with his brother, said they never charged the modelers club rent to use the property that is currently just a hayfield. He had hoped the solar farm could go behind the area where the modelers fly, which includes a small runway. However, the land survey showed there are fewer available acres and more wetlands than he initially thought.

“I’m feeling bad,” he said Friday. “We tried real hard to work them in and it didn’t work.”

However, Crooker supports sustainable energy and is happy the property will provide solar energy.

The other solar farm project on Middlesex Road (Route 24) is proposed by Borrego Solar out of Lowell, Mass., according to the application. The property is owned by Kurt and Kim Weaver and currently serves as home to Cripps Creek Disc Golf. They did not return phone calls seeking comment.

With incentives available from the state, there is a lot of pent up demand for solar energy projects, said Assistant Town Planner Andrew Deci. The town has also been in discussions with a third solar farm developer interested in developing a site.

The planning board will get its first look at both proposals during a virtual Zoom meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. before the applicants submit formal plans.

The planning board is also working on adding rules to its zoning ordinance that would allow for solar farm projects. While solar panels can be installed on the roof of a commercial building, for example, current rules don’t allow for free-standing solar farms. Deci said planners are looking at where in town they will allow solar farms and how big they can be.

The town is also considering requiring payment from a solar farm developer proposing to clear a large swath of land, to help offset the environmental impact. That could include paying into a conservation fund to conserve natural resources in other locations, for example.

Deci said the new rules haven’t been finalized but are expected to go to voters at the next town meeting, recently rescheduled for June 17.

The planning board will also give feedback Tuesday on a new affordable housing proposal. Topsham Housing Authority plans to build 38 new residential units at 25 Hackmatack Road off Tedford Road.

The field at 449 Augusta Road in Topsham that has served as home to the Brunswick Area Modelers to fly their planes from could be become home to a solar farm instead. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

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Source: https://www.pressherald.com/2020/04/05/topsham-hears-first-solar-farm-pitches/

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